Did you see IT this weekend? Judging by the box office, you probably did. Andy Muschietti‘s adaptation of the seminal Stephen King novel rode into theaters on a steady wave of buzz, a cache of critical acclaim and demolished even the highest of box office predictions, shattering records with a $123 million opening in the U.S. alone. And there’s more to come. While Muschietti hasn’t officially closed a deal to return for the sequel, IT screenwriter Gary Dauberman has been recruited to pen the script and the studio is eyeing a 2019 release, and with IT’s box office blazing bright, Muschietti is all but a lock to return at the helm.
Muschietti broke out in 2013 with his feature debut, Mama, an old-fashioned heartbreaking ghost story that earned attention for its chilling practical effects puppetry, and earned an impressive box office haul in its own right, especially for a first time feature director. If IT‘s box office dwarfs the success of Muschietti’s first film, it’s fair to say that IT is likewise a bigger movie in every sense, with more characters and locations, a sprawling mythology detailed in King’s 1000+ page book, and an iconic cinematic monster: Pennywise, the dancing clown. First portrayed by Tim Curry in the 1990 ABC miniseries that fuelled the nightmares of a generation, Pennywise gets new life in IT thanks to a stunner of a performance from Bill Skarsgard, who worked extensively with Muschietti to discover the right look, voice, and physicality as the child-eating clown.
Ahead of IT‘s big box office debut, I hopped on the phone with Muschietti to talk about the film and the director offered some insight into his collaborative process with Skarsgard. We also talked about his favorite book Easter Egg in the film, opening the can of worms that is Stephen King‘s cosmic mythology, making Beverly a leader of the Losers, reestablishing the dialogue between two timelines in Chapter 2 and tapping into adult fears. Check out what he had to say in the interview below, and if you’re looking for more from the director, be sure to check out our interview from the set.
I absolutely love this movie and I’ve seen it three times already, and one of the cool things has been spotting more of the Easter Eggs and book references. Do you have a favorite book detail that you guys laid in there?
MUSCHIETTI: Well you know, of course the book is so big and rich that you know you have to figure out how to put something that I wanted in. I think the turtle is something that, it’s presence, it’s very nuanced, very subtlety addressed. I think the scene at the quarry, where they’re all swimming. You know that scene where they all touch at the bottom for the first time? With Beverly and all playing, splashing in the water? And I think Richie says “What the fuck is that?” And Bill looks down and he says “It’s a turtle.” And the all go down into the water, and the reaction of the audience at that point when they submerge and suddenly the screen is all green from the water, I think people are waiting to see something ominous but they raising it up to see for an encounter with Pennywise and then it just moves on to the next scene. [Laughs]
But yeah I wanted to put the turtle in there. My idea for that scene was an extended play in which the kids are actually following the turtle under water and it’s a beautiful scene, seen from below and you see the rest of the kids kicking the turtle. Nothing happens but it’s just my way to say that the turtle, it depends on what the turtle might be maybe in a second part, or for people who read the book address the meaning of that presence, which is basically a protective entity.
Right. You guys, I think very wisely, didn’t get into the cosmic mythology in this film. Is that an idea that excites you looking toward the second film?
MUSCHIETTI: Of course. No, I was keeping this one grounded, as much as a battle with an entity from a different dimension can get. It’s more about what happens to the characters. For me, it was more about following the emotional aspects of these kids’ journey more than opening the can of worms that is the other dimension because it opens up the tone to a fantasy story that I didn’t want to address fully.
Do you want to open that can of worms?
MUSCHIETTI: Yeah, but it won’t be a … I will never portray it in a way they do it in like a fantasy film. I think it’s a bit too early to talk about that because we’re figuring out how it plays. I personally was never too interested in the, like you said, the cosmic mythology of it. I know it’s important, it’s sort of a thread in Stephen King’s work. But I am somehow more interested in what this monster means to the kids from their point of view more than trying to explain the other side.
One of the greatest things about the book is that everything we know about It, it’s pretty speculative. We see it from the point of view of Loser’s and that’s what makes it so scary. We never get to know exactly what it is.
I had the opportunity to visit the set when you guys were filming and watch you work with Bill a little bit. You guys were shooting the slide projector scare and he would give you something completely new and different with every take. What was it like finding Pennywise in the editing room when you have that many options?
MUSCHIETTI: Well, you know, with Bill it was like conceptually we wanted to have those options and make an exploration of Pennywise and once we, at the concept we embraced the idea of making Pennywise unpredictable. Bill provided a different flavor of behavior in each take he was doing something different. I didn’t, it’s not only in the projector scene. You know this because you were on the set. Each scene where Pennywise intervenes Bill provided a new flavor to each take because he was part of the concept of making this monster unpredictable. So, and Bill doesn’t shy away from the exploration of that he is so brave in that sense.
And it was fun for him to surprise me and surprise himself and surprise everyone with new stuff. And it was, we even discussed with him before shooting we said, “Let’s go crazy.” Because there is something in the core of this monster that we want to capture It’s ability, so we do different things and different behaviors and different takes that might amount to something very unique when we put the scene together. Using bits and pieces from different takes. Which is something that normally you don’t do with normal characters or normal stories, but this is not normal at all.
I keep saying this, but I think everybody’s going to go to the movie for Pennywise and then they’re gonna go back for the Losers. The kids are so fantastic, but Beverly especially kind of steals the movie to me. Can you talk a bit about fleshing out her character and the changes from the book?
MUSCHIETTI: Yeah, well I wanted to dig deeper into that character because for me Beverly even though in the book Bill is the leader of the Loser’s I wanted to introduce Beverly as different kind of leader. You’ll see her character basically confronts her demons much more than the other Losers. When she is introduced to the group there is always some kind of admiration or impact in the rest of the kids because she is sort of braver in a way. And it’s expressed in the quarry scene where they were all shy from doing the jump and Beverly who has already sort of taken control of her personal hell by cutting her hair. A symbolic way of taking control. And she becomes someone else, someone new. And that energy sort of infuses to the group when she goes into the quarry. So, we see that bravery in that jump, that jump means a lot in the arc of her character.
And there’s also those, Beverly is the character that suffers more because she faces that horrible situation of abuse at home. So I really wanted to make people feel that loneliness and that anxiety. And you see moments probably like she’s the one where you see more moments of that hint and loneliness and memories. In a way what has changed from the original work, probably, is not only everyone is sort of fascinated by her but in this case, she becomes the leader in a way.
Yeah, I loved that.
MUSCHIETTI: Yeah, it’s fantastic. And I think she becomes, her character is so magnetic. Everyone responds to Beverly.
You brought a lot of different scares to the film that aren’t from the book, but capture the spirit – I know Judith was based on one of your own childhood fears. As you look forward to dealing with adult fear? As it says the book, they’re more complicated and not as pure. How are you sort of wrapping your head around approaching that kind of fear?
MUSCHIETTI: Well the adults, we’re still working on the story. I wanted to make the second part as compelling as the first one, or a little more. So there’s still a lot of things to figure out and explore. But I think that one of the fears is a story about the end of childhood and the death of magic, that is the world of childhood where imagination can open a world of joy and believing in things that don’t exist. I think that one of the fears of Loser’s is going back and try to recover the memories and reconnect with their childhood knowing that by doing so they will encounter very dark things. That’s why I want to basically recover that data between timelines and make the flashbacks to the 80s very much part of the main plot. So basically, in order for the Loser’s to redeem the power and confront Pennywise they have to retrieve very specific memories of that summer of ’89.
That was a bit vague as an answer but the punchline is that we have to explore a little bit.